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Reshuffle MBS style: The reappointment to government on 25 February of Khalid Al-Falih – after he was removed as energy minister last year – to head a new Ministry for Investment highlighted Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s style of government. Despite his apparent fall from grace during a difficult period for his industrial strategy and the Saudi Aramco listing, Falih is one of a small group of trusted officials through whom MBS promotes his rule.

Saudi Arabia
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Sultan succession: The death of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said was announced on 10 January. While predicted for some time, his death still came as a profound shock to the nation he had not only ruled but profoundly shaped since 1970, and whose political life he had dominated as an absolute ruler. Qaboos had been suffering from cancer for many years and had received extensive treatment in Europe.

Oman
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Government turmoil: The cabinet handed in its resignation on 14 November, amid a corruption scandal involving KD240m ($790m) missing from the Army Fund and tensions between the National Assembly (parliament) and the executive. Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah was subsequently replaced by Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, who had been foreign minister. The revamped government faced immediate problems, with social affairs and labour minister Ghadeer Mohammad Aseeri resigning in late January.

Kuwait
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Protests continue: Demonstrations continued across many parts of the country through the early weeks of January, as the authorities struggle to come to terms with public discontent at the poor state of public services, corruption and foreign interference. Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi resigned in late November but remains in office in a caretaker capacity as it has proved impossible for President Barham Salih to find a consensus candidate to replace him. Indeed, it is now possible that Abdel-Mahdi may be pressured to remain in the job.

Iraq
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Politics: Disagreements between the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad have been a source of major tensions. The 2005 constitution gave the KRI an identity distinct from Iraq, as a federal entity recognised by Iraq and the United Nations; the 2010 Erbil agreement outlined how power would be shared. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has long protested these agreements’ lack of implementation.

Iraq
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Fuel protests: The government announced an unexpected cut in fuel subsidies overnight on 14/15 November, which sparked a wave of protests that swept across Iran, swiftly followed by a brutal crackdown by the authorities. The regime adopted a policy of maximum force to snuff out the threat, with an internet blackout to stem the ability of protestors to organise themselves. Many thousands were arrested and the death toll reached into three-figures. The authorities blamed the outbreak of discontent on malign ‘foreign influences’.

Iran
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IsDB green bond issue: The Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) raised €1bn in five-year trust certificates on 27 November, marking the successful pricing of its first ‘green’ sukuk (Islamic bond). The paper was issued under the bank’s $25bn trust certificate issuance programme and was its third debt issuance this year. The joint lead managers and joint bookrunners on the issue were Citi, First Abu Dhabi Bank, HSBC, Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, Natixis, Société Générale, Warba Bank and Standard Chartered Bank.

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Riyadh agreement: President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government signed an accord with the Southern Transition Council in the Saudi capital on 5 November. The Saudi government had played a critical role in bringing the two sides together, in a development which should help to avert another front opening up in the country’s long-running conflict in the wake of the UAE decision to withdraw most of its forces from the arena.

Yemen
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Strategic retreat: Following the surprise drawdown of forces from Yemen announced in July, there have been signs of a wider reduction in the UAE’s overseas reach. Among recent developments, GSN has heard that UAE support for Libyan rebel Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar is in question, following his Libyan National Army (LNA)’s failure to take Tripoli this summer.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Issue 1092 - 18 November 2019

UAE: Emirates tensions, oil trading

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Abu Dhabi-Dubai tensions: The relationship between the two most powerful members of the federation has been coming under strain amid shifting geopolitical and economic trends. Among points of contention are Abu Dhabi’s strategy of trying to freeze out Qatar and Iran, which Dubai views as expensive quarrels that offer no beneficial outcomes.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Economic growth: Qatar is set to register the GCC’s joint fastest growth this year, alongside Bahrain, according to the latest IMF forecasts. The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook (WEO) predicts a 2% expansion of GDP in 2019, rising to 2.8% next year. As with most countries in the region, those numbers are lower than the IMF had forecast in April; in its last WEO report the IMF was expecting 2.6% growth this year and 3.2% in 2020. Regional tensions and reduced oil production have been hindering many Gulf economies, but for Qatar there is the added complication of the economic boycott by its neighbours, since June 2017.

Qatar
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Energy and foreign affairs reshuffles: Several rounds of government reorganisation started in late August, as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) has sought to inject more life into his economic reform programme and prepare for Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering (IPO). A big loser was Khalid Al-Falih, who was replaced as Aramco chairman by Public Investment Fund head Yasir Al-Rumayyan. Falih also lost control of the industry and mineral resources ministerial portfolios and on 8 September was replaced as energy minister by Prince Abdelaziz Bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia
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Emir’s health: Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was forced to cancel a planned meeting at the White House with United States President Donald Trump on 12 September due to health concerns. The nature of subsequent medical tests was not disclosed, but officials have continually stressed the results have been positive. The 90-year-old emir has received a string of visitors from the Gulf while in New York and fielded phone calls from regional leaders enquiring.

Kuwait
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Majlis Al-Shura election: The election of 85 members to the ninth Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council) is scheduled for 27 October, with 767 candidates standing, 43 of them female. Voter registration closed in September, when preliminary numbers showed there would be 375,801 male and 337,534 female voters. Interior minister Sayyid Hamoud Bin Faisal Al-Busaidi said this increase on previous numbers reflected “the growing desire among citizens to exercise voting rights and take responsibility in the march of progress”.

Oman
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Border issues: Iran closed its Khosravi border crossing near the Iraqi city of Khanaqin, on the fringes of the KRI, on 3 October after a request from Baghdad due to security issues. This followed widespread protests around Iraq. The KRI has largely avoided any impact from the protests, which have been concentrated in Baghdad and the south.

Iraq